The Ins and Outs of Oral Cancer

Identifying and treating oral cancer

There are many medical conditions that can destroy the mouth and the most devastating of the group is arguably oral cancer. Oral cancer is a condition that affects each aspect of the mouth, including the teeth, tongue, gums and inner cheeks. Oral cancer is rare though, and there are on average 10 cases reported in South Africa each year. Many of the symptoms for oral cancer can be indicative of a different, less dangerous condition.

What exactly is oral cancer?

Oral cancer presents as a mouth sore that doesn’t heal over a long period of time, even with medical interventions like pills, medicine, and ointments. It is often treated similarly to other head and neck cancers, with smokers and heavy drinkers being the most likely to contract the disease.
However, the risk is more than twice as high in men than in women.


There are many factors that can point to mouth cancer. Most notable of these is a sore inside the mouth that resembles a cauliflower floret. Also common are mouth ulcers, swelling, and pain when swallowing and jaw pain or stiffness. Many people also note a lump or thickening of the skin or lining of the mouth. Be on the lookout for unexplained bleeding in the mouth that doesn’t only happen when brushing.

Who is most at risk of contracting oral cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, men run twice the risk of developing oral cancer.
Risk factors for the development of oral cancer include cigarette, cigar or pipe smokers. Even smokeless tobacco (vape) users are more likely to develop mouth cancer.
People who consume excessive amounts of alcohol are about six times more likely to contract cancer than their non-drinking counterparts.

How Is Oral Cancer Diagnosed?

As part of your routine dental exam, your dentist will conduct an oral cancer screening, explains WebMD. When examining your mouth, your dentist will look for any sores or discoloured tissue as well as check for any signs and symptoms mentioned above. You will be checked for any lumps or irregular tissue changes in your neck, head, face, and oral cavity. You may need a biopsy if anything is detected.

How is oral cancer treated?

Radiation and chemotherapy are the most common ways of treating oral cancer. Five-year survival rates are often used when looking at the survival rates for various forms of cancer. This just means what percentage of patients diagnosed were still living five years after their diagnosis. If diagnosed at an early stage, the overall five-year survival rate for oral cancer can be as high as 84%. So don’t delay visiting a specialist. If you recognise any of these symptoms, visit a doctor today. The earlier cancer is diagnosed, the higher the survival rate.

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